Perhaps the most chilling movie I’ve seen during the past decade — while the American led, once-termed “Global War on Terror” rages on and on and on, ever-expanding both overseas as well as within the Homeland — was the 2006 movie Children of Men. Its Mexican director, Alfonso Cuaron, has described his dystopian film as the “anti-Blade Runner”.
The 1982 Ridley Scott directed film, Blade Runner, likewise depicts a dark futuristic scene set in the then barely-imaginable distant future of Los Angeles in 2019. Through stupendous special effects, it depicts, rather inaccurately by the way, fantastical advances of science to include humanoid robots that can fall in love and wax philosophical while “dying”, deep space travel, battling Galactic Empires, and overcrowded urban sprawl not only across the landscape but also up into dark, polluted skies as well.
On the other hand, Children of Men paints a considerably more realistic near future, one that if current trends continue becomes all too feasible and most alarming. The film depicts British citizens, who are subject to constant surveillance, but who also can be locked down behind bars in crowded cages at the capricious will of the national security state.
Over recent weeks global mainstream media, even in corporately-owned outlets within the US, have been filled once again with intolerable images of rampant police violence against nonviolent Occupy Wall Street citizen protestors. Such violence has rarely been seen since the massively turbulant anti-war and civil rights movements fifty years ago.
Fellow blogger John Grant wrote about an early example of New York City police violence in his October 5th essay “Is the United States A Police State?” Since then police purges, often including violence against the occupants and destruction of their private property, have occurred at OWS-protest encampments throughout many American cities, both large and small, from Atlanta to Oakland, New York to Portland. Some commentators contend these purges were coordinated through the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
This recent police violence against American citizens, though certainly disturbing, is by no means unique throughout our 235-year history. In addition to the brutal Civil War, which included a “scorched earth” policy during Sherman’s “March to the Sea”, America’s bloody legacy is filled with numerous examples of large-scale police violence. Such violence has often been authorized by politicians supported by the 1% most wealthy citizens against the vast majority of citizens who comprise the 99%.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were numerous incidents of coordinated police brutality, several resulting in significant deaths and injuries, against striking laborers. The casualties in these bloody confrontations included a number of women and children. This violence, often sanctioned by civic leaders and politicians in support of corporate owners, include the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman Strike in 1894, the Lawrence Textile strike in 1912, the Ludlow massacre of 1914, the Steel Strike of 1919, and the Hanapepe massacre of 1924.
In the summer of 1932, federal troops were ordered by President Hoover to augment the DC police force to disband the Bonus Army. Under the command of General Douglas McArthur, the troops and DC police violently disbanded the peaceful veterans and their family members, who were petitioning Congress to provide them with their promised war service bonuses early due to the hard economic times of the Great Depression during the 1930s, another egregious incident of Wall Street failing main street. Some 17,000 WW I veterans and their family members were brutally routed from Hooverville in Anacostia Flats, resulting in several deaths and numerous injuries, not only to veterans but to several wives and children as well. This unmitigated violence no doubt led to Roosevelt defeating Hoover in the 1932 presidential election.
Student protests against the American War in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s included numerous incidents of massive police violence. Local police forces were sometimes augmented by the National Guard or US Army troops against young citizens. Most notable are the violent confrontations at the Democratic Convention in Chicago during August of 1968, the shooting of student protestors at Kent State in May of 1970 by the Ohio National Guard, and the mass arrests of some 7,000 protestors during the “Stop the Government” protests in Washington, DC on May 1, 1971, while Army helicopters flew overhead and 82nd Airborne troops patroled city streets. Many current members of VFP, then active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, took part in the Dewey Canyon III veterans protest, throwing their war medals back to the government on the steps of the US Capitol Building, several days before the mass arrests.
In addition to anti-war protests, during much of the last half of the 20thCentury American citizens suffered from large-scale incidents of co-ordinated police violence, often sanctioned by community leaders and politicians, during the long struggle for civil rights. The civil rights struggle during the 1960s, led by Martin Luther King, who was later assassinated, was primarily for people of color. Later, during the 1970s, it expanded to include women and Native Americans. A number of deaths occurred during the Wounded Knee siege in 1973 between federal officers and Sioux Indians in South Dakota. The struggle granting civil rights for differently-gendered persons began in 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. It has continued through recent history with the ending of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the US Armed Forces and the granting of full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.
Recently, however, a number of social commentators have become alarmed by the extreme militarization of local police forces. Even hallmark publications of mainstream America, such as the staid New York Times and Atlantic, have become concerned. In addition, policies regarding the use of federal troops to augment local police forces have virtually rendered the legal precedent of posse commitatus, forbidding the use of federal troops, null and void.
Within Congress, however, an even more ominous development has alarmed civil libertarians and supporters of the now largely defunct Bill of Rights. With only token discussion, during which opponents with mitigating amendments were easily outvoted, the Senate passed with strong bipartisan support the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation includes vague language that would grant authorities the legal precedent to preventatively detain without legal rights anyone anywhere, including American citizens within the US homeland.
Despite rhetoric that he would veto the bill containing such draconian provisions, it appears that President Obama is now satisfied with amended language he believes softens the potential negative impact upon US citizens. Obama has indicated he will soon sign this onerous legislation. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will issue a Bush-like “signing statement”. Nevertheless, many progressive critics, including the ACLU and the Salon’s Glen Greenwald, are most concerned about how such a law with its nebulous language could be used against American citizens. The language might very well allow for citizens to be preventatively detained indefinitely.
As winter deepens through the holiday season, much of the OWS movement has gone into hibernation. A notable exception was the December 12th large demonstration at the Port of Oakland, during which for several hours the port was totally shut down for business. An Oakland City Council measure to prohibit similar protests that interrupt port business, using whatever lawful tools the police have to prevent future disruptions, failed to come to a City Council vote, giving credence to the Tip O’Neill slogan that all politics is ultimately local. Perhaps, a more effective strategy for progressives, instead of focusing on the presidential of 2012, would be to focus their energies on key local elections.
It remains to be seen what will happen when warmer weather returns in the spring. Will the OWS movement again begin massing in urban centers? Will it grow in numbers and impact throughout the main streets of America once again? If an “American Spring” ensues, and if the 1% wealthy elites perceive that they are seriously threatened by a growing rebellion of the 99%, will more draconian measures than those already put on the books during the past decade gain support both within the Executive Branch and Congress to deal with so-called homegrown terrorism?
There is both historical precedent, as well as the legal infrastructure currently in place to manifest in relatively short order a full tilt boogie Fascist police state under the control of Wall Street and corporate elites. If that occurs, the reality of America’s future as the “land of the free and home of the brave” may substantially differ from what most Americans believe their country stands for. Such beliefs might then be described more accurately as delusional. Instead, AmeriKa may very well come to resemble the horrifying landscape of Children of Men – not exactly what our history books and folklore portray our land as being. Will a second American Revolution then ensue to install a government truly “of the people, by the people, for the people”? Or, will we the people, who comprise the 99%, be locked down in a permanent Fascist police state. Time shall surely tell.